Women do have a longer life expectancy, yet the quality of life is diminished by a greater prevalence of disability in old age compared to men.
"We focused on a socioeconomic position factor such as educational level and health factors such as limitations to daily activity. By studying this relationship we were able to see the social inequalities in dependency", Albert Espelt, lead author of the study and a researcher at the Public Health Agency of Barcelona, said.
The study is based on the health surveys that have been carried out in Barcelona by the Public Health Agency since 1982.
"These are representative of the non-institutionalised population living in Barcelona", the expert said.
In total, the team interviewed 4,244 people aged above 64 (893 in 1992, 2,140 in 2000 and 1,211 in 2006).
We saw differences in limitations according to socioeconomic position, which remained steady over the course of time", the expert pointed out.
The prevalence of disability in people aged over 64 increased among women in Catalonia between 1992 and 2006, but not among men, due to the increase in female life expectancy. The prevalence of disability in 2006 was 30 percent among men and 53 percent in women. In other words, it increases among the most elderly women.
"The double burden of work that women experience throughout their lives (domestic work and work outside the home) is a key factor in explaining this difference in different studies", says Espelt.
Domestic work is less rewarding than working outside the home, and leads to a greater prevalence of non-fatal diseases such as musculoskeletal problems and depression.
The study has been published in the latest issue of the Journal of Women's Health.